We Don’t Want No Segregation

December 22, 2013 at 10:58 am (academe, Feminism, Islam, islamism, religion, Rosie B, women)

My partner and I were once travelling on the eastern side of Turkey. That is noticeably more conservative than the western side, and we followed the Lonely Planet’s advice. He changed his shorts for trousers and I put on a long skirt. On mini-buses if there was a spare seat next to me and a man got on he would not sit next to me, so my partner and I would swap seats If a woman came on, it was vice versa.  We were trying our best to be culturally sensitive, and though we found this particular custom absurd, there’s plenty to admire about the people in eastern Turkey.

Note, though, how inconvenient it was. The bloke who got on looked tired, and had probably been working all day in the fields. But a cultural practice prevented him from taking a little ease for half an hour.  Also, countries where women are segregated usually mean the women stay at home. These are not just Muslim countries. When a woman friend and I travelled around Greece in about 1979 it looked like a virus had wiped out the female population. The corollary of the local women being kept apart is that we visiting women were harassed constantly. It was a relief to get back to Britain and be treated as a normal human being.

This is working up to segregation at universities which has made big news recently.

Over at Loonwatch, an Islamophobia watch site, they are puzzled that people should get so upset about men and women being segregated at meetings at universities that they, the complainers, are very unlikely to attend.  They also think it’s hypocritical, given the amount of gender segregation there is in our society.

Of course our society has a fair amount of informal segregation. Hen parties (which are yukky from other points of view) and stag parties for instance. However, the woman who goes on a girls’ night out or to a women’s networking event would be appalled to be segregated at a public meeting.  It was the formal connivance of the UUK to segregation that made everyone so angry.

There are times when a woman is a female body. In a changing room, in a toilet, in a hospital ward, giving birth, flirting at a party wearing a low-cut dress and having sex.  But that at a meeting she should be regarded as a female body rather than another citizen, another listener, questioner, point-putter or heckler is insulting to every suffragette and every feminist who fought for women’s equal rights in the public sphere.

Here are some  of the arguments set out by Tehmina Kazi, the Director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy. The full piece is here.

Aspects of the gender segregation debate that have annoyed and perplexed me

Denial that gender segregation even exists in universities.

Downplaying of the discrimination and shoddy treatment faced by women who have experienced it, which goes back many years.

Those who are unable to see why it is problematic for a public body like Universities UK to prioritise the whims of external speakers over university public sector equality duties, and THE SPIRIT of equalities law.

No-one has given me a GOOD reason as to WHY gender segregation it is practiced in the first place, in either civic or theological terms. “Because we’ve done it for years…” does NOT count.

. . .
Women who turn around and say, “But I’ve never had a problem with being segregated.” Fair enough, but where is the empathy for people who HAVE suffered as a result?

[An old feminist recognises “I’ve always got on very well with men. as an argument for anti-feminism.]

The endless comparisons with toilets. Since when did the privacy issues of taking a dump compare to those of engaging one’s brain and listening to a speaker as part of an audience?

The endless comparisons with single-sex educational establishments, which people actively CHOOSE to attend. Even if the choice was made for them by their parents, you’d think they would be able to enjoy such freedom of choice themselves at the age of 18, SHOULD they decide to attend university. What people effectively have NO choice over is attending a public event at a MIXED university – either as a guest or student – where the arrangements inhibit them from sitting or entering alongside the opposite gender.

(As for the single-sex colleges at Cambridge University, they were originally set up to help redress the gender imbalance in higher education. As I understand it, at least one of the Cambridge colleges in question intends to become co-educational when the proportion of women at Cambridge reaches 50%).

Confusion over the distinction between discretionary segregation (where people randomly sit where they wish, perhaps in same-sex clusters) and organised segregation (which is either enforced by the event organisers, or requested by the student societies in question). [See above for my point on the informal and formal.]

Complaints that the issue is receiving disproportionate public attention NOW. Where were these complainants when women’s rights activists were raising these issues within the community for YEARS? Keeping schtum and not upsetting the apple cart, yes?

Complaints that those who raise this issue MUST have an Islamophobic agenda, when many of them are actually Muslims whose concerns have been brushed aside for years. (As an aside, many of these same Muslim activists have ALSO done a lot to challenge GENUINE anti-Muslim sentiment).

Assumptions that those who campaign against gender segregation in university events MUST also automatically oppose it in congregational prayers. This is not about acts of worship, as Equality and Human Rights Commission Chief Executive Mark Hammond made clear: “Universities can also provide facilities for religious meetings and associations based on faith, as in the rest of society. Equality law permits gender segregation in premises that are permanently or temporarily being used for the purposes of an organised religion where its doctrines require it. However, in an academic meeting or in a lecture open to the public it is not, in the Commission’s view, permissible to segregate by gender.”

This issue will come up again in another guise, and again will have to be slapped down. It is a waste of everyone’s time and energy.


  1. We Don’t Want No Segregation | OzHouse said,

    […] Dec 22 2013 by admin […]

  2. genderneutrallanguage said,

    This issue will come up again and again because it’s not being dealt with. It’s not being dealt with within feminism. Gender segregation is considered a good thing, or at least not worth talking about, if it’s to protect women from “rape culture”. Had the speaker not asked for “gender segregation” but prohibited men from half the room creating de facto segregation to protect women from men’s roaming hands, do you really think this would be an issue?

  3. Rosie said,

    I have seen the “safe space” argument used by feminists. I would imagine the chances of being groped at a university meeting would be very slim. Also, many women attend such events with boyfriends or male friends- and would take a dim view at being separated from them.

    But it has been feminists eg Maryam Namazie and Yasmin Alibai-Brown and the Southall Black Sisters who have protested. So tho’ there’s been an outbreak of schtum from feminists in the New Statesman, I haven’t seen any feminists actually supporting official gender segregation. If you come across something, let me know.

  4. Rosie said,

    • Andrew Coates said,

      This article was amended to draw attention to the fact that many Muslim and Asian women were involved in the “gender segregation” protests.

      In other words Laurie Penny’s entire article is based on a false premise (that it was non-Muslim ‘men’ organising the protest).

      Laurie Penny is a dishonest fool.

      • Robin Carmody said,

        Isn’t it depressing that even Peter Hitchens (who is no neocon – on the contrary, he has opposed all Western interventions since 2001 and supports Putin on an “all social conservatives together” ticket) can see that much of the British Left has simultaneously nailed its flag to two incompatible masts?

        What I wish is that the ostensibly “socially conservative” – in reality radical neoliberal – tabloids were pro-Islamist, which they actually might be had Thatcherism not happened. That really would sort the Left out.

      • Jim Denham said,

        Andrew Coates has beaten me to it, but I’ll make the point anyway:

        At the bottom of the article it now states:
        “This article was amended to draw attention to the fact that many Muslim and Asian women were involved in the “gender segregation” protests”

        This had to be added after Penny and the Graun received lots of tweets and commentsfrom from Muslim and ex-Muslim groups, and it was pointed out to her that Southhall Black Sisters were involved in the protests. Either Penny didn’t even bother too find that out before firing out her copy, or she knew but didn’t think it mattered until black and Asian feminists kicked up a fuss. Either way, Penny is a disgrace.

      • Rosie said,

        Penny is getting a total going over on Twitter now. Last one to bite her was Yasmin Alibai-Brown. Penny’s only research for the article was to read a piece by that tortuous lackwit, Gopal, over at the Rationalist Association.

        The article was factually incorrect, making out that Student Rights had organised the demo and ignoring people like Maryam Namazie (who had organised it and has been vocal in the media), Yasmin Alibai-Brown and the Southall Black Sisters. The Rationalist Associated apologised for this. But Penny saw the original article, it chimed in with her prejudices, and off she went, with her usual diatribes against white men etc.

        Half an hour with google would have stopped her making a total fool of herself.

  5. jimmy glesga said,

    Laurie Penny or perhaps she should be reduced to halfpenny seems a bit of a dimwit. Has she been made aware of what is happening in Syria, Egypt, Libya etc.

  6. jimmy glesga said,

    Money halfpenny SHOULD READ her 2nd paragraph, third sentence,
    ‘taking personal risks to do so’. So she is admitting there is a problem but babbles on.

  7. prianikoff said,

    The majority of the 60 people who supported the demonstration against Gender segregation were middle class secularists.
    It’s nothing new for self-described feminists to be involved in dubious alliances with the right.
    The tiny demonstration was immediately reported in the right wing media; the “Telegraph”, “Times” and Sky TV.

    These outlets gave the it more covereage than they had to the TUC’s demonstration in Manchester on Sept 29th.
    Giselle Greene, writing in Liberal Conspiracy on October 1st pointed out that:-
    “With the exception of the Daily Mirror (which carried photos, an article and a leader comment), I spotted not a single word in the Mail, Express or Sun, just a photo in the Times, describing protesters as “health workers”, and a paltry few, easy-to-miss words in the Telegraph.”

    The demonstrators carried placards portraying seperate seating arrangements at University meetings as “apartheid”.
    This is a highly dubious assertion in itself. Apartheid was a system of state power.
    Has anyone actually been arrested for violating seperate seating?

    If the meetings are voluntary, should the college authorities, abetted by the state if necessary, enforce the rights of those who object to seperate seating?
    That could create a very dangerous legal precedent.
    For instance, where school building space is used for religious services.
    If such a policy was extended into the private sphere, the implications for race relations would be horrifying.

    The rapid by Chuka Ummuna, David Cameron and Michael Gove showed the political direction this campaign was heading in.
    Just as the al-Madinah school was the first Free School to be put into Special Measures, despite numerous others being mismanaged and wasting public money.

    It was particularly hypocritical coming from these three politicians.
    Ummuna’s secondary school, St Dunstan’s College is a Parochial Independent School, which was all-boys until he was 16.
    He isn’t even the shadow Education spokesman, but Universities are now seen as part of the Business remit.
    Cameron went to Eton, one of the few remaining all boys public schools.
    Gove was the only one to go to actually go to a Co-ed school, a fee paying private school in Aberdeen.
    But he was lucky enough to win a scholarship to it.

    It’s more than just hypocrisy, its imperialist cultural arrogance coming from people who see themselves as representatives of a uniquely enlightened society.
    When push comes to shove, such people will impose its norms by force.

    • Jim Denham said,

      So you support the forcible separation of people by gender, do you, prianikoff ?

      • Robin Carmody said,

        I love how he uses “secularists” as a pejorative.

        The fact is that people like ‘prianikoff’ have made false friends (and before he or any of his co-thinkers says anything, I feel the same way about British Jews who believe Cameron et al support them in their hearts, rather than simply out of geopolitical convenience). The idea that those who suffer at the hands of Islamists should be left to their fate because “the wrong people” pretend to support them (again, out of geopolitical convenience rather than genuine conviction) is cruel, heartless, inhuman and cynical, and gives the British Left a very bad name.

      • prianikoff said,

        No example has yet been provide of the “forcible seperation of people by gender” at a British University. Were it to happen it wouldn’t be supportable.

        You are totally selective in what you regard as “gender segregation”.
        If you were consistent, you’d be launching a campaign against single-sex schools.

        Your position would also run into problems if the rugby club tried to gate-crash a Lesbian disco, or racist women tried to disrupt a Muslim meeting.

        Actually it’s people like you who are invoking a reactionary moral crusade by the state by invoking a panic around an issue that’s of fairly minor importance, that can be solved by exercising a bit of tolerance.

      • Jim Denham said,

        prianikoff: there are plenty of examples of universities allowing/turning a blind eye to segregated meetings organised by Islamists. It seems (from your last comment) that, in theory, you don’t support such segregation, but refuse to admit it goes on. And in any case, the now-withdrawn UUK guidelines would have sanctioned and legitimised such segregation.

        I oppose *all* gender segregation, including single-sex schools. But stop shouting “over there” will you? The issue at hand is UUK’s disgraceful “guidelines.”

        There is absolutely no equivalence between the demand by some people (eg Lesbians) for a private “safe space”, and the enforced separation of men and women at public events at a state-financed institution. If you cannot see that then you’re even more stupid than I first took you for. This is not a “minor” matter, still less a “reactionary moral crusade”: would you dare say the same about racial separation at meetings? If not, why not?

  8. Babs said,

    The reasons behind why the left and the right oppose forced segregation is completely different. The left are trying to protect hard fought for women’s rights from creeping Islamism and it would be the same stance for any other ideology that promotes segregation. The right are simply opposing Islamism in British culture. If Cameron turned around and said segregation is good for Britain and promotes virtue over vice and allows students to focus more on their studies without being distracted and help make Britain great again in this competitive globalised world than they would all be nodding in agreement.

    • Robin Carmody said,


      This feels like another moment where *that* Orwell / Telegraph quote must be echoed from the rafters.

  9. Robin Carmody said,

    Isn’t it revealing how ‘prianikoff’ calls *opposition* to Islamism “reactionary”, as if Islamists adhered to the same worldview as the Western radical Left?

    Why can’t people like him see that, in a state run on their principles (not that I think Britain would ever go that way, this is just a hypothetical), they’d be the first to go, whereas the likes of – yes – Peter Hitchens would thrive?

    And I think the vast majority of the British Left are strongly opposed to single-sex schools, especially as they are – even when many historically all-boys’ private schools take girls – largely symbols of privilege and social separation.

    The fact is that the people ‘prianikoff’ thinks will represent the vanguard of the revolution actively despise him and all he stands for. This is why people like him are such a tragedy.

  10. Robin Carmody said,

    I can bet he’d call Maryam Namazie – who has had to suffer far more than a spoilt secular Westerner ever has – an “Uncle Tom” as well.

  11. prianikoff said,

    “Isn’t it revealing how ‘prianikoff’ calls *opposition* to Islamism “reactionary”, as if Islamists adhered to the same worldview as the Western radical Left?”

    I called YOUR kind of opposition to Islamism reactionary, which it is.
    Just look at who has jumped on your bandwagon.
    (or was on it before it even started rolling)

    I don’t support Islamic governments, or any other religious form of government.
    I support the separation of religion and state (something which has yet to occur in the UK)
    To take just one example, religious schools (predominantly CofE and Catholic) receive dispropotionate levels of state funding.

    Liberal secularists aren’t even particularly effective at fighting Islamists.
    They’re usually prepared to ally with their own state against “creeping Islamism” (the term that Feminist Babs uses).
    This almost always leads to something very nasty, like the Egyptian coup, or the Algerian Civil War.

    In the case of the US & Britain, it’s led to bombings and military invasions.
    So now have the ludicrous situation in Afghanisan, where NATO forces are defending an “Islamic Republic” against supporters of an “Islamic Emirate”.
    – the direct result of the US arming jihadists to overthrow a secular leftists government in the first place!

    Besides which, I’ve already explicitly stated that the *enforced* seperation of sexes at University meetings is NOT defensible.
    However much Denham wants to spin words, he can’t provide a single real example where this has occurred.
    The whole media campaign around this issue has acted as a distraction from more important issues.
    Such as the student demonstration against police brutality on campuses a few days later, which attracted 40 times the support.

  12. Matthew Blott said,

    I just had a quick look at the “Loonwatch” article and posted a comment. I didn’t realise comments are pre-moderated so I don’t expect it to appear and thought I’d post it here so my time wasn’t completely wasted:

    Loonwatch.com seems like an oxymoron reading this tripe. The reason there is outrage is because people take offence at publicly funded events insisting on the sort of “separate but equal” measures we thought had been left behind long ago. I don’t care what Muslims (or any other faith for that matter) get up to in private. But when you are receiving public money then you should bloody well adhere to the rules that apply to everyone else.

  13. Jim Denham said,

    A comrade has written:

    I think context is everything here. Laurie Penny has an agenda and that agenda is to blur the line between honest socialist-feminist secularists and “Islamophobes” in order to blunt our message, and her Guardian piece is simply part of that agenda.

    She mentions the Rochdale grooming scandal. If a journalist writes an article about how those found guilty of grooming were Asian men, that would be a fact. But if a member of the BNP does it, you might wonder what the implication is.

    Others have already noted that many of those who attended the protest against gender segregation in universities were from minority backgrounds, so I don’t need to mention it again. That seems to be the main line of defence at the moment, which I think is pretty weak (but understandable give Laurie’s own, slightly ironic, claims that white liberals are speaking on behalf of others). But if the protest had not managed to attract support from minority ethnic supporters, would that have made it any less valid? As it turns out, one of the principal organisers and speakers was the Iranian socialist-feminist, Maryam Namazie.

    What I find offensive in the article is the idea that feminists who oppose religious-based women’s oppressed cannot/do no also oppose non-religious oppression. This is a fantasy. Who among those who attended (people like Maryam, the Southhall Black Sisters, James Bloodworth, etc.) were “using dog-whistle Islamophobia to derail any discussion of structural sexism”? They were using “dog-whistle Islamophobia” because the principal defenders of the move to segregate were Islamic societies and their supporters?

    She says: “Structural sexism does take place every day in our universities, as it does in our offices, shops and homes – and we should oppose it everywhere. But demanding that feminists of every race and faith drop all our campaigns and stand against “radical Islam” sounds more and more like white patriarchy trying to make excuses for itself: “If you think we’re bad, just look at these guys.” Again: among the list of prominent feminists who addressed or attended the protest, who exactly does this?

    Yes, there is a section of liberal society that certainly does – that cares little about women’s liberation unless it happens to coincide with a criticism of Islam or Islamic practices, in which case we should doubt their sincerity and question their motives. But, I fear, this article is not aimed at those people: it is aimed at the securalist socialist-feminists, like ourselves, who actually organised and demonstrated at the protest.

    And to talk about a “report vastly exaggerating a suggestion by Universities UK that male and female students might be asked to sit separately in some lectures led by Islamic guest speakers” is quite astounding when Universities UK released a quite clear statement that it endorsed gender segregation at meetings when the issue of “freedom of religion” conflicted with it. (A statement which subsequent to the protest and media coverage that Penny is now criticising it was actually forced to retract.)

    She says: “The people making these arguments don’t care about women. They care about stoking controversy, attacking Muslims and shouting down feminists of all stripes.”

    I find that incredibly offensive and politically loaded.

  14. Greg said,

    This article is excellent, and sensible. I like the way you deal with the whataboutery regarding toilets etc. (the times when a woman is also a female body is a great way to put it). I must check out Kazi’s article. The points you quote from it are superb and refreshing to read after weeks of reading all the things she complains about. I’ve been annoyed by a lot of what’s been said by the different sides, often disingenuous, or unfactual, or ignorant, or bigoted, or weak.

  15. Pakistani Odyssey said,

    One should have choice of interacting or not interacting with men/women. Those who don’t want to, fair enough, but segregation can’t be forced on others.

  16. daniel young said,

    Laurie is a out there feminist who!s sexual prefrence blurs and lables those not the same as hers,She has always let her sexuality to blinker her arguement.She has to understand that all hetro males are not like she sees them,some see.

  17. daniel young said,

    Adendum Laurie!s Leninist birth of socialism,to be dominated by Trotsky!s inhumain control of the revolutions dominance of his control if you are not one of use get against the wall.

  18. BillyLex said,

    Duh, what do you expect from an anti-semitic website like Loon Watch. You are correct about their being a lousy source. They make up smears and lies to discredit Israel supporters, and here is one of their ugly screeds which backfired

    Sheikh Palazzi: I Did Not Convert to Hinduism. Did Loon Watch Create Fake Facebook Page to Orchestrate Smear Campaign Against Zionist Muslim Sheikh?:

    Loon Watch is an Islamist anyonymous website like Loon Watch. They’re too afraid to even tell us who the website owner is. All the writers claim to be experts and they use white Westerners to bolster their case against the West by making up claims of Islamophobia.

    They do not write original material, most of the time. Ilisha one of the Islamists is buddies with this Pakistani woman:

    Loon Watch’s Ilisha Recommends American Saudi Blogger Who Claims Netanyahu and Obama Orchestrated Terror Attacks to Blame Islam

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